Pastoralism in the Kingdom of Kerma: upcoming lecture

I am delighted to announce that the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 continues after our short summer break. Next Tuesday, Sept 27, Jérôme Dubosson, Université de Neuchâtel, will talk about “Living and dying with livestock: Some thoughts on pastoralism in the Kingdom of Kerma during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE.”

Trained in archaeology and anthropology, Jérôme wrote his doctoral thesis on the cultural and social role of cattle among pastoralists in North East Africa. His interdisciplinary research aims to better understand the development of African pastoralism in time and space. Since 2007, Jérôme has been working with the Swiss Archaeological Mission in Kerma. He recently wrote the article “Cattle Cultures in Ancient Nubia” for the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia (2021).

In this article, he gives a very useful overview of the ritual and cultural role of cattle in Nubian pre- and protohistoric societies according to archaeological findings like bucrania and engraved figures of cattle in rock art.

The question of the use of bucrania is also a very interesting one for our DiverseNile project. As Jérôme remarks, such deposits are mostly attested in the rich tombs in the main centres of the Kerma empire, at Kerma and Sai Island (Dubosson 2021). In marginal cemeteries of the Kerma kingdom, bucrania are rare and animal deposits are mainly found as meat offerings inside the grave. This also holds true for two of the Kerma cemeteries in our MUAFS concession, at Ferka (3-G-19) and Ginis (GiE 003) as well as for their closest parallels, the cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha in the Batn el-Haggar. Since all these marginal sites, especially GiE 003, find otherwise close parallels in the cemeteries at Sai, this really seems to relate to varying funerary customs in the hinterland of the northern Kerma stronghold.

There is much potential in further research on provincial Kerma cemeteries – as Carl Walsh recently pointed out in an inspiring article with an exciting fresh approach, social and funerary practices in the Kerma kingdom seem to reflect complex interactions between regions and communities in what can be called a “pastoral state” (Walsh 2022). We still know little about the internal structure of this state, but we should probably consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume (cf. Lemos and Budka 2021). In this respect, the different roles of livestock within such marginal communities and regions – despite of a central value given to cattle – are of key interest.

For now, I am very much looking forwards to Jérôme’s upcoming lecture!

References

Dubosson 2021 = Dubosson, J., Cattle cultures in Nubia, in: Emberling, G. & Williams, B. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, Oxford 2021, 908-926, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190496272.013.48

Lemos and Budka 2021 = Lemos, R. and Budka, J., Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550-1070 BCE), World Archaeology 53/3 (2021), 401-418, https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2021.1999853

Walsh 2022 = Walsh, C., Marginal communities and cooperative strategies in the Kerma pastoral state, JNEH 10 (2022), https://doi.org./10.1515/janeh-2021-0014

Strenghthening our research interests in Nubian gold: welcoming Sofia Patrevita

It’s a great pleasure to introduce our new team member of the ERC DiverseNile project: Maria Sofia Patrevita joined us this week as a new PhD student.

Sofia Patrevita earned her MA degree in Ethiopian archaeology at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”, specialized in goldsmithing and metalworking in ancient Ethiopia. Furthermore, she is herself a goldsmith apprentice – allow her to assess ancient gold working from a very specific and highly promising perspective.

I am very happy that Sofia is now strengthening our common interests in gold exploitation in ancient Sudan and more specifically in the Attab to Ferka region. In her PhD project with the working title „Ancient goldworking and goldsmithing in the Middle Nile region“ she will focus on questions related to styles, technologies, and experimental archaeology. She already has great experience in ethno-archaeology and experimental studies and will continue these lines of research with us in Munich. Her project is particularly well-timed because recent fieldwork is shedding new light on Nubia’s gold production and processing, stressing the active role of Nubian communities in the gold working business. Updates will follow here, stay tuned!

Reflections on the International Conference for Nubian Studies 2022

First day back in the office after a wonderful week in Warsaw for the 15th International Conference for Nubian Studies. It is particularly lovely to be back in Munich knowing that the next conference will be held here in 4 years, and we look forward to this exciting if daunting challenge!

It was a fantastic conference and a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world, as well as with ongoing work and research in Nubia and Sudan. It was especially nice to be in Warsaw for the 50th anniversary of the conference with the first conference also taking place in Warsaw in 1972.

It was a busy week with a huge range of papers and no less than six keynote lectures, each fascinating in their own right and providing much needed reflections on ongoing work in the region as well as the state of the discipline as a whole. The conference was wonderfully organised by the committee (Heads of the Organising Committee: Adam Łajtar and Artur Obłuski) from the University of Warsaw and it was great to hear about so many fantastic projects. These ranged from discussions of ongoing excavations, scientific research — such as bioarchaeological studies, to ongoing community archaeology and heritage management, as well as Christian and Prehistoric Nubia. Given the aims of the DiverseNile project it was wonderful to have so many papers on the ‘Borderspaces of the Nubian World’ which were especially relevant to our work. A very useful round table on ‘Different Complexities: Empires, States, and Nomads in Nubia and the Middle Nile’ organised by Julien Cooper and Andrea Manzo, also provided much food for thought.

It was also a great opportunity to share some updates from the DiverseNile project with PI Julia Budka and Rennan Lemos (who is sadly leaving the project for a teaching position in Cambridge) both presenting on some of the results from the project, as well as future directions and research questions.

Julia Budka presenting updates from the DiverseNile Project.

The week also provided a great opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Warsaw and its Museums. This included the wonderful Faras Gallery in the National Museum of Warsaw, where 67 wall paintings from the Faras Cathedral are beautifully displayed in a space reminiscent of the original layout of the cathedral. The paintings were removed as part of the Nubian Campaign with the Faras excavations directed by Professor Kazimierz Michałowski, after whom the gallery is named and who organised the first International Nubian Conference in Warsaw. As such it was particularly fitting that the Welcome Ceremony for the 15th conference took place in the Museum with an opportunity to visit the galleries. The legacy of the Nubian Campaign of course continues to be the subject of controversy, particularly in relation to displacement of Nubian communities during the flooding of the region, and this was raised in several papers, including the keynote by Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei.

The conference ended with a gala dinner in the lovely garden of the Warsaw University Library, a beautiful setting to end the conference.

A beautiful location for the Gala Dinner in the University of Warsaw Library Garden

Although, not the trip to Warsaw! The weekend provided a great opportunity to explore the city with its especially lovely Stare Miasto (Old Town) and Wisła.

Views of the Stare Miasto (Old Town), largely rebuilt after the Second World War

Beautiful but of course with a dark past, still memorialised in the city and in the informative displays provided by museums such as the Warsaw Rising Museum and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The latter in particular providing a stark contrast of the different periods of the 1000 year history of the Jewish community in Poland from an early ‘Paradisus Iudaeorum’ (Jewish Paradise) to the horrors of the Holocaust. A dark ending to the trip but nevertheless a necessary one.

Remnant of the Warsaw ghetto wall still visible today
Warsaw Uprising Monument

Overall, the trip to Warsaw was a great success for the DiverseNile team given us the opportunity to discuss ongoing research as well as learn much about the city itself. Many thanks to all of the participants and especially the organising committee and volunteers who made it all possible! We all very much look forward to the next opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues.

Preparing for the International Conference of Nubian Studies in Warsaw

Four years have passed since the last International Conference of Nubian Studies in Paris and on Sunday, the 2022 edition of the 15th congress will start in Warsaw.

Rennan, Chloë and I will be attending, and I will present the MUAFS project and its main results of the last years. My paper will give an overview of our activities from 2018 until 2022, with a special focus on the ongoing subproject ERC DiverseNile focusing on the Bronze Age remains. I will introduce our landscape biography approach in the Attab to Ferka region as the investigation of encounters of humans and landscapes in a peripheral borderscape with a longue-durée perspective, considering all attested finds from Palaeolithic times until the Islamic age.

For the presentation, I updated our list of sites and processed some of the quantitative data. At present, a total of 266 sites was documented. This comprises 186 of the 219 Vila sites as well as 80 newly identified sites. This number of sites is still preliminary because parts of Kosha, Mograkka and Ferka on the West bank have not yet been surveyed.

Regarding the types of sites, the most common sites are settlements and burial grounds. However, it is also remarkable that the MUAFS concession includes one granite quarry, one gold extraction site and several rock art sites.

Main types of sites in the MUAFS concession (status 2022).

As far as the dating of the sites in concerned, the majority belongs to the Medieval time. However, Bronze Age sites, here labelled as Kerma and New Kingdom sites, which are relevant to the DiverseNile project are also well represented. There are also several multi-period sites and others were re-used in later periods (e.g. Kerma sites in Medieval times).

Dating of the MUAFS sites. Note that the total number of sites for this table is 283 since several sites were used in more than one period. The Kerma and New Kingdom sites are currently being investigated by the DiverseNile project.

I will also present some general patterns of the distribution of sites throughout the ages. This allows to highlight the importance of environmental parameters and changing landscapes in the region.

Although my last visit to Warsaw was just in May this year, I cannot wait to be back in this beautiful town. I am very much looking forward to the Nubian conference and meeting all the international colleagues working in Sudan.

Funj period architecture on Gergetti island

The 15th International Conference for Nubian Studies in Warsaw is approaching at the end of this month, and I am currently busy preparing my paper. I will give a brief overview of the main results of the MUAFS project in the past years – and thus I revisited some of the sites of major interest between Attab and Ferka.

Until now, our work only focused on the left and right banks of the Nile – but my concession also comprises all the islands of the region. While we still have to visit Firkinarti island close to Ferka with its impressive archaeological remains, Huda and I spent one productive day this January on Gergetti island during our survey season.

Location of Gergetti island between Attab East and Attab West.

Gergetti island is a beautiful island dominated by sandy dunes, located between Attab East and Attab West with an East West extension of c. 1.7km and a North South extension of c. 250m. The landscape and the view to the east bank is stunning – and provides a completely different view of Gebel Abri than I was used to when working on Sai island.

View from Gergetti island towards the Southwest, with Gebel Abri in the background.

Vila documented two sites on the island – the better preserved one is 2-S-21, a fortified village of 110 x 70m in size which Vila associated with the Terminal Medieval period (Vila 1977: 32-37) in the southwestern corner of the island. He provided an excellent map of the site, and we could follow in his footsteps and check the present day preservation.

Location of site 2-S-21 on Gergetti island.

The enclosure wall has a hexagon shape and is made of mud brick with blocks and pieces of schist stone. In the southern part, the enclosure has already partly collapsed in the times of Vila, but the buildings in the interior are still very well preserved.

Plan of the fortifed village by Vila (1977).
Overview of the interior of the site in January 2022.

A dozen of preserved mud brick houses are square or rectangular buildings with one very small room in the back and a larger room in the front. Such a layout as well as the general appearance of the settlement 2-S-21 seems typical of the Funj period. Much progress in research on Funj house architecture has just been made in the last years, most prominently by the UMMA project at Old Dongola. In one of their recent publications, Obłuski and Dzierzbicka point out the main characteristics and differences to the medieval Nubian house types. They also mentioned Gergetti island as a close parallel to Old Dongola (Obłuski & Dzierzbicka 2021, 237, 242).

One of the houses along the northern wall (view to west).

Especially since research of Funj period domestic architecture between the Second and Third Cataracts is still limited, the site 2-S-21 has much potential for future exploration. It became obvious that the map of Vila, as useful as it is, needs to be improved in several respects and that some buildings were also omitted on his plan. One possibility would be to document the site by drone aerial photography and thus to generate a new georeferenced 3D model as well as detailled plans. Excavations should also be undertaken in selected parts of the town, especially for clarifying building phases. The earliest phase of the settlement would be extremely relevant – not only for further comparisons with Old Dongola and other sites, but also from a historical view for the region of Attab to Ferka. Apart from the architecture, the material culture will give important information on the fine dating (as well as on so many other questions like room function, activities etc.). There is plenty of pottery on the surface, including nice painted wares and we also found one small piece of glazed ware. Without doubt, undisturbed contexts more useful for dating can be expected below some of the collapsed walls.

The state of preservation of the buildings at 2-S-21 is just amazing.

For now, Vila’s association of the site with Late Medieval times should be modified as most likely Funj period – more on this will follow when we return to the beautiful island of Gergetti.

References

Obłuski, A. and Dzierzbicka, D. (eds) 2021. Old Dongola: development, heritage, archaeology. Fieldwork in 2018-2019. Volume 1: Excavations. Polish Publications in Mediterranean Archaeology 1. Leuven et al.

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Sudanaise). Fascicule 6: Le district de Attab, Est et Ouest. Paris: CNRS.

New dissemination article: the 2022 season of the DiverseNile project

Amid the quiet summer break here in Munich, a new dissemination article on the results of the DiverseNile project in the field was published, of course open access (Budka 2022).

In this article, I highlight the results of our excavations in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003. Among others, the remarkable complete set of a red-burnished Kerma pot with a stone lid found in situ on top of the vessel is emphasised. This intriguing mix of materials in the combination of a stone lid and a pottery vessel was also the topic of one of my last posts.

Drone aerial photo of the landscape of the westbank in the MUAFS concession (photo: Cajetan Geiger, ©DiverseNile).

Another theme of this new dissemination article is the importance of gold working sites that are traceable in the entire MUAFS concession areas, at both the east and the west bank of the Nile. I very briefly summarised our first test excavations at the promising settlement site AtW 001 in Attab West which might be related to gold exploitation in the early 18th Dynasty.

Although the results from our first excavation season are only preliminary and excavations at both sites, the Kerma cemetery and the New Kingdom settlement site, will have to continue, they represent already important steps towards establishing Middle Nile contact space biographies beyond cultural classifications.

Reference:

Budka 2022 = Budka, J., Unearthing unknown archaeological sites in the Attab to Ferka region in Sudan: the 2022 season of the DiverseNile project, The Project Repository Journal 14, July 2022, 80‒83 (https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=095fc716-1ffb-4179-a368-36e3ff6d513b)

The right lid for every pot?

Summer term is approaching an end at LMU (finally!) and there is again some time for research. I am currently busy with processing the pottery from AtW 001, but I also managed to work on the Kerma cemetery GiE 003. Our two student assistants, Caroline and Iulia, have been very hard-working in digitalising the original pottery drawings.

A topic that concerns me at the moment is the question of lids or covers for pots. In Egypt, ceramic lids are well attested since the earliest time. During the New Kingdom, it is sometimes really tricky to decide whether a shallow small dish was used as a lid or as an actual dish. In addition, reused sherds are commonly utilized as covers for pottery vessels (see also evidence from Sai Island, Budka 2020, 250, fig. 117).

How much do we know about lids and covers of pottery vessels from Nubia? Not a lot I am afraid (ast least I don’t).

Brigitte Gratien included some special types of lids in her corpus of the pottery of the Classical Kerma period (Gratien 1978, 36, fig. 7; fig. 63, type 19 and type 32, decorated lid). These are all specific for the site of Kerma and haven’t been found elsewhere. Type 32 of Gratien is especially noteworthy. It is a series of painted vessels with covers, which were interpreted as imitation of basketry or even as representation of a hut (Bonnet 2004, 83). For me, the interpretation of an imitation of basketry is more convincing, also because such imitations in pottery already exist much earlier, though with incised decoration (for nice examples, including pots with lids, see Old Kingdom Elephantine, Raue 2014, fig. 182).

One of the stunning painted vases with cover from Kerma, SNM 1119 (Bonnet 2004)

Interestingly, other than these basketry imitations from Elephantine, I do not know of any lids or covers of Nubian pottery prior to the Classical Kerma age. Could pots have been covered with non-ceramic materials – like with basketry or some other organic materials? And could the increase in pottery lids at the capital in Kerma during the heyday of the empire maybe reflect an inspiration from the Lower Nile/Egypt? Or something else? Another possibility is that we simply missed pottery lids in the Nubian ceramic tradition because we interpreted dishes and cups wrongly (as dishes/cups and not as lids).

These are all intriguing questions, and I will try to investigate them in more detail soon. For now, I would like to present some interesting case studies from the newly excavated Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

Feature 20 in Trench 1 is a rectangular burial pit with rounded edges, vertical walls, and impressions/pits in the east (40cm x 10cm) and west (30cm x 10cm). Remains of a contracted burial were still found in place on a wooden funerary bed. A goat/sheep offering and three almost complete pottery vessels were found below the foot end of the bed on the west side. The complete set of a red-burnished Kerma pot with a stone lid found in situ on top of the vessel (MUAFS 61 and 62) is especially remarkable.

The Kerma pot MUAFS 61 with its stone lid MUAFS 62.

The lid is just a nicely shaped circular disc without any modelling of the interior as it is for example known from lids of kohl pots. With a diameter of 5.4cm it fits perfectly on the pot. Some of you will wonder: with an in situ lid on the pot – what did they find inside the vessel? Well, to my disappointment the pot was completely empty except for some dust.

However, the stone lid MUAFS 62 is not a singular piece from GiE 003. Another stone lid was found in a plundering layer, MUAFS 10. Although it was impossible to associate this piece with a proper burial or feature, it is more or less contemporaneous to MUAFS 62 and can be attributed to the Classical Kerma time. With a diameter of 6.2cm it is slightly larger than MUAFS 62.

Apart from these two stone lids used as covers for pottery vessels, Trench 1 of GiE 003 also yielded a pottery lid. An almost complete lid, MUAFS 312-1/2022, was found in Feature 10 (a rectangular burial pit with pits for the funerary bed, very similar to Feature 20). This pottery lid is wheel-made, was imported from Egypt and is made in a Nile clay B2 variant. Such vessels are very common in the 17th Dynasty in Egypt (e.g. at Elephantine). With a diameter of 10.7cm and its convex shape, it is markedly different to the stone lids mentioned above.

The only attested wheel-made pottery lid from GiE 003 (original drawing J. Budka, digitalisation I. Comsa).

Although proof is lacking, I would assume that this pottery lid was used as the cover for one of the few Marl clay vessels imported from Egypt attested from Trench 1. However, the pottery found inside of Feature 10 apart from the lid was all Kerma in style, including typical Black topped fine wares.

To conclude, it requires more in situ found assemblages like MUAFS 61 and 62 to answer broader questions about the use of lids in Nubia in general and Kerma cemeteries in more particular. For now, the evidence from GiE 003 suggests some intriguing variation, especially in the Classical Kerma age.  

References

Bonnet 2004 = C. Bonnet, Catalogue no. 57: Vase with cover, in: D.A. Welsby and J.R. Anderson (eds.), Sudan. Ancient Treasures. An Exhibition of recent discoveries from the Sudan National Museum, London 2004, 83.

Budka 2020 = J. Budka, AcrossBorders 2: Living in New Kingdom Sai. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant 1, Vienna 2020.

Gratien 1978 = B. Gratien, Les cultures Kerma. Essai de classification, Lille 1978.

Raue 2014 = D. Raue, Elephantine und Nubien im 4. – 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr., Habilitation thesis, Leipzig 2014 (published in 2018, Berlin).

Not all archaeology takes place in the field!

Since joining the project in June, I have been busy catching up on the research that has been conducted to date. A considerable amount of this goes back much further than the start of the DiverseNile project to an archaeological survey which took place between 1969 and 1973 directed by André Vila (Budka 2020). As much as we archaeologists enjoy excavation, we also spend a huge amount of time using and building on the work of our predecessors (see also the earlier blog posts by Rennan Lemos and Veronica Hinterhuber). This is particularly important when considering large concession areas such as the one held by the DiverseNile project and the questions the project poses.

Published plan of the area surveyed between 1969 and 1973 (Vila 1979)

Past work such as Vila’s survey can help inform current (and future!) projects in myriad ways. At the most basic level, we can use the results to help locate potential sites of interest for the project and then identify and re-explore them in the field in Sudan. This can also be significant in noting changes in archaeological sites since Vila’s survey, which is crucial for their preservation (Budka 2019; 2020). We can also integrate past data into our current research, increasing the data we have available at our disposal to answer our present research questions. Finally, we can use this survey data to explore research and archaeological practices both today and in the past. Understanding these practices is crucial as they directly influence the way that archaeological knowledge is constructed (Ward 2022). Therefore, a key consideration when using Vila’s data is to understand how it was collected and presented at the time, this means we can make use of it much more effectively. To this end, considering Vila’s results as ‘legacy data’ is a useful way of integrating this past research into our current project.

Normally, the term legacy data in archaeology is used to define ‘obsolete’ archaeological data but, given the vast importance of digital data for any kind of analysis, manipulation, or mapping, this can broadly be applied to any data which is not digital (Allison 2008). As such, any work involving the re-contextualisation, application of modern techniques, or modelling of past data can be considered working with legacy data (Wylie 2016). Thinking of this evidence as legacy data rather than simply data is crucial when using it in any new or future research as it demands a more complex engagement with the material then simply extracting quantitative data. It would be redundant to simply apply new methods to old data, without engaging with more fundamental questions which consider how the data was originally collected and how it fits into the broader historical and methodological contexts of previous studies.

Fortunately for us, Vila’s survey is comprehensively published across 11 volumes, all of which are available on the website of the SFDAS (Section française de la direction des antiquités du Soudan). The volumes are nicely bookended by an introductory volume — which provides crucial information on how the survey and recording was conducted by the team, as well as the classification system used — and a concluding volume — which provides some quantitative analyses of the results of the survey.

Classification of sites used by Vila during the survey (after Vila 1975)

This is a fantastic resource for the project to draw upon as a key consideration when making effective use of legacy data is not only to understand the methodological processes used, but also to ensure the replication of past results (Corti and Thompson 2004; Corti 2007; Corti 2011). As in any science, the reproducibility of results is fundamental in ensuring the accuracy — and therefore usability — of past research, which is crucial when incorporating it into contemporary research. Furthermore, advances in the archaeology of Sudan means that some of Vila’s results — for example, in terms of phasing — may well need to be re-examined and ‘updated’ to take into account the half-century of subsequent research.

Of course, all of this leads to additional questions on the future of the research and data created by the DiverseNile project. This includes thinking about the best ways to collect, store, and share our data and ‘futureproof’ our work.  

Keep reading the blog for future updates on Vila’s work and its integration into the DiverseNile project!

References

Allison, P. 2008. Dealing with Legacy Data ‒ an introduction. Internet Archaeology 24. DOI:10.11141/ia.24.8

Budka, J. 2019 (with contributions by Giulia D’Ercole, Cajetan Geiger, Veronica Hinterhuber & Marion Scheiblecker). Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019, Sudan & Nubia 23:13‒26

Budka, J. 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: the 2020 season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project, Sudan & Nubia 24: 57‒71

Corti, L. 2007. Re-using archived qualitative data ‒ where, how, why? Archival Science: 37‒54

Corti, L. 2011. The European Landscape of Qualitative Social Research Archives: Methodological and Practical Issues. Forum: Qualitative Soical Research 12(3)

Corti, L. and Thompson, P. 2004. Secondary Analysis of Archive Data. In: Seale, Gobo, Gubrium, et al. (eds) Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage: 327‒343

Vila, A. 1975. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 1: General introduction. Paris: CNRS

Vila, A. 1979. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 11: Récapitulations et conclusions. Paris: CNRS

Ward, C. 2022. Excavating the Archive/Archiving the Excavation: Archival Processes and Contexts in Archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice 10(2). DOI:10.1017/aap.2022.1

Wylie, A. 2016. How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Strategies for Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways. Science, Technology, & Human Values 42(2): 203‒225

Advances in experimental archaeology: firing pottery, use of dung and much more

Most know by now that poop is of great interest for us archaeologists. Recently, the so-called ‘archaeology of dung’ has resulted in numerous cross-geographical publications confirming the use of animal dung in archaeological deposits as the main fuel source and several other purposes. Most of these studies focus on the analysis of the microscopic evidence attributable to dung, combining multi-proxy approaches to investigate the biological components and potential markers of herbivore dung, as well identifying archaeobotanical indications from dung pellets and related sediments. Less numerous are studies concerning the identification of dung as a tempering agent in ceramic material.

In a new paper just published, Giulia D’Ercole and I aimed to replicate, observe, and discuss the recipe utilised by the ancient potters of Sai Island (northern Sudan) in the New Kingdom period using an experimental approach. We discuss the possible adoption of organic inclusions, and especially animal dung, as tempering agents to produce some of the locally made Nubian and Egyptian style ceramics. We think that the use of animal dung within the large set of pottery production offers important fresh insights into both long-standing traditions and cultural encounters (Budka and D’Ercole 2022).

One observation in this paper was also that in terms of the firing process of our samples, it must have been at a low temperature resulting in a minimal supply of oxygen, as in most cases the typical relicts left by the combustion of organic materials were still visible. Questions regarding kilns for both handmade and wheel-made vessels, as opposed to open firing techniques, need to be investigated further, as does the kind of fuel used for firing pottery. Recent research suggests that fresh wood and animal dung were used in tandem in pottery kilns (see the case of the smelting furnace from Egypt, Verly et al. 2021), and possibly even for open firing.

This brings me to our most recent experiments connected with firing pottery. I spent the last weekend at Asparn (Austria), at the MAMUZ museum and had the pleasure to participate once again in the experimental archaeology class hosted by the University of Vienna.

Vera’s great Classical Kerma replicas placed in our lower bedding of goat dung.

Together with Vera and Ludwig Albustin and other colleagues, we were busy on the first day firing high quality replicas of Classical Kerma beakers. We used goat dung as the main fuel, but also some fresh wood and the results were really good – it went fast, and the appearance of the pots is very close to the ancient ones. We will clearly continue in this line, making more experiments with mixed fuels for firing pottery, for example with adding reed or straw.

Pottery firing in progress.

The second part of our experiments this year in Asparn was dedicated to fire dogs, their possible use and cooking pots. Our current line of research aims to test the advantage of using fire dogs together with Nubian style cooking pots – they differ slightly in shape and size of the Egyptian ones. I believe it is possible that the inhabitants of Sai found some creative ways to combine Egyptian fire dogs with Nubian cooking pots – thus they might have created something new.

Our new set of fire dogs which was fired and is now ready for use.
New replicas of Nubian cooking pots placed on fire dogs.

For some canines, all this effort and attention to the curious fire dogs remains incomprehensible. The different smells at the experimental archaeological site were a lot more exciting here.  

References

Budka and D’Ercole 2022 = Budka, J. and D’Ercole, G. 2022. An Experimental Approach to Assessing the Tempering and Firing of Local Pottery Production in Nubia during the New Kingdom Period. EXARC Journal 2022/2. https://exarc.net/ark:/88735/10638

Verly et al. 2021 = Verly, G., Rademakers, F.W., Somaglino, C., Tallet, P., Delvaux, L. and Degryse, P. 2021. The chaîne opératoire of Middle Kingdom smelting batteries and the problem of fuel: excavation, experimental and analytical studies on ancient Egyptian metallurgy. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 37 (article no. 102708) DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102708

Sudan Studies Research Conference, Munich edition

We are delighted to announce the sixth edition of the international Sudan Studies Research Conference in collaboration with Durham University’s DUSESG Founders on Saturday, June 25. The conference will be held as a hybrid event – the reservation of online tickets is still possible! Please check the website for more information: https://www.sudan-conference.com/

The schedule of talks is now available, and the programme covers a large variety of topics, from various parts of Sudan and different periods, presenting a large range of perspectives and methodological approached.

I am especially delighted to welcome two distinguished German colleagues as keynote speakers – Angelika Lohwasser and Friedrike Jesse. Both will address highly interesting regions outside the Nile Valley – Angelika Lohwasser will present new approaches to archaeology in remote areas and Friederike Jesse will talk about explorations in the South-Eastern Sahara.

The DiverseNile team is grateful for the opportunity to host this event with postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers as its prime audience and we are all very much looking forward to it, expecting plenty of fruitful discussion!